Venus better than Serena heading into Open
Matthew Cronin / ********************
Posted: 13 hours ago
Two months ago, it would seem laughable if it were suggested that Venus Williams might go down in history as a better player than her younger sister Serena.
She was mired in awful slump, hadn't won a major in nearly four years and had collected just the one minor title in 2005.
Serena had won her seventh major in typical gritty fashion at the Australian Open, and it seemed like anytime she showed up at a Grand Slam ready to play, she could simply will her way to victory.
Serena Williams has struggled to find her game this year. (Al Bello / Getty Images)
Oh, how times have changed after Venus' improbable run to her third Wimbledon crown.
If Venus, 25, wins the 2005 US Open, she'll own six Slam titles, just one short of 23-year-old Serena's mark.
Moreover, Venus owns 33 titles to just 26 for her actress and designer sister, who obviously has more outside interests than she does.
"We're two different people, two different players with different lives," Venus said. "But we support each other."
Serena has only played 11 matches since early April and hasn't won a title since the Aussie Open. She's dealing with a serious ankle injury, is at least slightly out of shape and has spent more time at movie premieres this summer than she has on court.
For her part, going into the U.S. Open, Venus has grinded all year long, playing 10 tournaments — which ties her for fifth amongst the top 10 women — two Fed Cup ties.
There's a perception out there that like Serena, Venus has all these other off-court interests, but that's simply not the case. Oh sure, she participated in their Reality TV show, but she spends most of her time practicing, working out and playing tennis, which is why she completely exhausted herself playing a brutal schedule from mid-May through the beginning of August.
Name another top player who competed in Istanbul (which she won) the week before the French Open; then played Roland Garros; then worked out hard for two weeks; then won three straight highly stressful matches to take Wimbledon; then flew to Moscow to play three Fed Cup matches on clay; then flew back to the U.S. to compete in World TeamTennis; and then played Stanford, where she was so tired that she finally let down in the final against Kim Clijsters.
No other woman, except Venus Williams.
So while it is true there have been times in Venus' career where she has gone on mental walkabouts, it is completely unreasonable for any high-level commentator to push the perception that all she does is "just show up at the Slams and play."
But that opinion is still pushed, largely because there are analysts out there who can't bring themselves to separate the lives of the two very different sisters.
Serena has admitted that she rests on her laurels sometimes, but you will rarely get that from Venus, except for the times when she is playing lousy and will offer that she should practice harder, but that's a common refrain from every player on tour.
No, Venus sucked it up in a big way this year and put herself through a meat grinder emotionally, because she knew she hadn't performed up to snuff during the past couple of years and wanted to prove to herself that she could still be a champion.
She had lost her confidence prior to Wimbledon, and finally found something that brought it back when she experimented with a relaxation technique which helped her rid herself of tension.
Venus Williams is one of the favorites to win the U.S. Open women's title. (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
"I need to slow things down in my mind," she said. "You have to be able to relax. I was putting way too much pressure on myself all the time before Wimbledon. Now I know not to think too far ahead. I expected too much. At Wimbledon, I expected myself to perform well, but I wasn't thinking seven rounds ahead."
Venus cleaned up some of the technical glitches in her game, trained smarter and got her body healthy and went back to what made her a Hall of Fame player: steely defense, backed up by mind-blowing counterpunching.
So now it's Venus who will go into the U.S. Open as one of the two co-favorites (the other being Belgium's Kim Clijsters) — not Serena.
After Stanford, Venus pulled out of the rest of the U.S. Open Series warm-ups, saying she caught a flu bug and needed to rest. And for anyone who saw her dragging her body around at Stanford against Clijsters, it was clear that she did.
"I feel a little more tired than usual," Venus said this week. "I've had to recover from everything, my illnesses and things this summer. It's not perfect circumstances, but I'm definitely going to be out there and hopefully have my letdown after the Open ... I think I'll go in mentally a lot better. When it comes down to it I don't think anyone really wants to play me because I have a lot of weapons and not a ton of weaknesses. My main weakness would probably be an occasional self-destruction mode. So I'll try not to touch that red button accidentally."
Venus knows the prize that looms is a huge one. Should Venus win the U.S. Open, it will be the third time she has gone back-to-back in London and Flushing Meadows, something that Serena has never done.
The last player to pull off that remarkable feat besides Venus was Steffi Graf, who did it five times, and is considered by most to be the best ever.
Believe it or not, the last time Venus was this tired was when she won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2001. She smiled when she was reminded of that a month ago, but promised she would show up with a full tank in New York.
She'll need it, because she will be facing a potential clash with Serena in the fourth round, Clijsters in the quarters, and maybe new No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the semis.
But if she's to go down in history as the best player in her family, she'll need to lock in the same steely gaze that brought her to the Wimbledon crown and loosen up the tireless legs that have already made her one of the best players the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium have ever seen.
"I won't be burned out," she said. "I'll be challenging for a lot of balls. I'm looking forward to following up on my success."